Waste Pickers Are Entrepreneurs Too

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May 2, 2018

Earlier this month, the GTP announced its support of a job creation and waste management project, developed in collaboration with Green Cape, MES and the Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District (VRCID). The Trolley Project is a structured, facilitated programme that provides personal and economic development opportunities for waste pickers.

It is designed to empower individuals to become active recycling entrepreneurs, through their participation in a skills development and life skills programme. It will also help to maintain a clean city centre and reduce the waste mountain in Cape Town.

The launch comes after 18 months of extensive research, consultation and programme development.

In Bellville CBD alone, 200 tons of waste are recycled every month. The waste is collected by waste pickers who transport recyclable materials to buy-back centres. The buy-back centres pay the pickers for each usable load. GreenCape estimates that this process saves the City of Cape Town around R1 million every month. In addition, recycling diverts waste from landfills which are already running out of space. Around 80% of post-consumer waste is recycled through the informal economy.

For waste pickers, recycling other people’s waste is the only way to earn money. According a survey conducted by GreenCape, picking waste is a full-time job for many of the individuals. On average, they work 8.5 hours a day, collecting and transporting waste.

The Trolley Project is an integrated social, environmental and economic development programme. Here’s how it works:

Who are the waste pickers?

The waste pickers are individuals who live in Bellville who currently already make an informal living by collecting recyclable materials from discarded waste. To be accepted to the programme, they will be required to undergo a comprehensive screening process and to meet certain selection criteria. The programme will not accept applications from waste pickers working outside the VRCID’s boundaries.

How does the programme work?

The programme is run in three phases to ensure the individuals recruited are reliable and committed to changing their lives for the better.

In the first phase, individuals are required to show commitment and good performance as they participate in the programme and attend personal development sessions.

After six months of diligent performance, pickers are issued with high-visibility vests, marking their promotion through the ranks of the programme. At this stage, they will be introduced to business owners, with a view to establishing a regular ‘beat’. Businesses discard more recyclable materials such as cardboard and paper which are generally uncontaminated by other non-recyclables. It therefore carries more value for the pickers and enables them to earn more. The entrepreneurial and life skills training continues throughout the programme.

By January 2019, seven months after being admitted to the programme, high performing participants will be issued a trolley that will help them transport collected materials.

Where do the pickers operate?

The programme is run within the VRCID’s operational boundaries, which is the Bellville central business district. At the time of writing there are no plans to roll out the programme to residential areas. Business waste is more valuable for waste pickers as it is ‘clean’ waste — primarily cardboard and paper, generally uncontaminated by food or other unrecyclable materials. Often, business waste is pre-bundled, which makes it easier to transport.

Who manages the programme?

The Trolley Project is a collaboration between the GTP, VRCID, social development organisation MES and GreenCape.

The VRCID’s social development department is focused on helping the most vulnerable people in society to regain dignity and reintegrate as positive members of society.

MES has a well-honed development programme specifically designed to empower individuals to take responsibility for their lives, change negative behaviours, and find positive ways to support themselves.

GreenCape is tasked with developing and promoting the green economy in the Western Cape. The Trolley Project forms part of its circular economy programme.

The GTP provided seed funding for the Trolley Project, as part of our mandate to develop and promote Bellville as an important economic node in Cape Town.

What if a picker ‘goes rogue’?

It is possible that pickers will leave the programme. However, the programme has been devised to show participants the value it can bring to their lives. Their participation will empower them to become entrepreneurs, offering them a route out of poverty. This will discourage most participants from selling trolleys on.

What are the benefits to businesses?

Over time, relationships of trust will begin to form between businesses and ‘their’ pickers. Waste picking is a symbiotic relationship between the picker and the business. Businesses have a convenient solution to recycling their waste, and individuals are able to earn an income.

What are the benefits to residents?

The Trolley Project will initially be implemented within the Bellville CBD, so businesses will be the primary beneficiaries. However, residents will benefit from a cleaner, more sustainable urban environment that is attractive to investors.

What if pickers engage in criminal activity?

Similar projects have been implemented in Stellenbosch and elsewhere. The results of these project showed that criminal activity dropped off where businesses had a relationship with the pickers. Picking increases surveillance around premises, and waste pickers in the area have a vested interest in discouraging criminal activity

Why is this project important?

Discarded, uncollected waste sends negative signals about an urban environment. In addition, waste is a growing problem in Cape Town, where landfills are full to capacity. And poverty is the number one driver of homelessness and negative behaviour in our cities. The Trolley Project helps to maintain a clean, well-kept city centre; divert waste from landfill; and provides opportunities for destitute people to earn an income that could, over time, break the cycle of poverty.

How are the trolleys made?

The trolleys have been designed by a team of engineers. They are designed to be durable and hardy for urban conditions, and are sized to be used on pavements. This helps to eliminate congestion caused by waste pickers moving unwieldy loads on streets.

How can I find out more?

VRCID – Wilma Piek

GTP – Monique Muller

MES – Lilly Franks

GreenCape – Kirsten Barnes